Posted May 2, 2019
Interview by Andrew Chen
Photos by Julian Berman
Full disclosure: this interview is over a year old. Looking back on the photos and the words, so much has changed for Teppei and his family since we first conducted it. Thrice released another new record (Palms). The Teranishi clan bought a new home and moved from Orange County to the mountains. Teppei cut his hair. The boys doubled in size.
But many things have stayed the same. Teppei is still committed to writing and performing new music with Thrice, and he continues to use Teranishi Studio to explore his love of functional, minimalist design. He’s still trying to figure out how to juggle his passions well, and how to be a better husband and parent. And he still has a deep appreciation for the simple things in life.
The reality is that every interview is only representative of the time that it was conducted, and in turn, posted. Every Singularities feature we’ve released in the past is now “outdated” – but what we look to highlight in each one are the long term values, commitments, and lessons that are important to the people we are covering. There are some gems in here. Old gems, perhaps, but gems nonetheless. We hope that you enjoy reading them.
Table of Contents
How are you adjusting to living back in California?
It’s been pretty easy overall because Jenna and I grew up here. When we were living in Washington, we would still come and visit twice a year for extended periods of time so the kids were already super familiar with it. Getting used to being in a more urban environment again was a bit harsh, but after a couple of years of renting in a suburban neighborhood, we bought a house out in the canyons of Orange County and have been happy out here. It’s pretty much a perfect medium between what we had on Vashon and regular suburbia—more space, land, nature. Even the 15 minute drive out into the canyons is akin to the ferry ride we had to get on/off the island. You start to feel a psychological and physical break from the rest of the world as you’re driving in.
Do you have family nearby?
Yeah, Jenna’s family is close as well as a lot of our friends we grew up with. My dad lived with us for a bit in Vashon and again for a hot minute when we moved to California, but he’s been back in Japan now for a couple of years.
You guys released two new Thrice records after a long hiatus and have been touring often again, but in the meantime you’re working on leather goods here at home. Do you have a hard time switching back and forth between the two creative endeavors?
I actually do find it difficult. It’s mostly that playing in a band inevitably means touring and traveling a lot, and doing this on my own means I don’t have anyone to keep the shop running while I’m away. Not just making and designing, but even just simple things like shipping – basic day to day stuff that goes into running a business like this has to be put on pause every time I’m away. It’s a lot of on/off so it’s hard for me to gain any sort of momentum, both creatively and business-wise. I have to take half a step backwards every time I leave, come back, and find my groove again. I still have a passion for designing, making and creating and that’s what keeps me going. I still need an outlet for all the crap that floats around in my brain.
Trying to plug back into daily life after being away for months is definitely tough. Throughout the past few years, though, Teranishi Studio has been a constant in your life. Has it helped to give you some sense of normalcy while touring?
So the last time we were on the road, Teranishi was just a side project. It kind of is now again, but back then I was just starting – so it was still like a hobby for me. I was psyched to fill my time with it and I was always crafting on tour. I was pumped to do it. But for this past tour, I brought all this stuff to work on and just could not get myself to do it. I was like – what the heck, why am I being so lazy? But I figured it out. Teranishi had become my job so instead of being an escape from work like it used to be, I was really double working.
I remember times where you’d post on Instagram that you felt bad for not being able to keep up with the volume of orders while you were on the road. It’s a blessing to have people want your work, of course, but also tough when you don’t have the energy to match the output needed. Come to think of it, people probably felt that way Thrice too when you were on hiatus.
I can handle the Thrice pressure a lot better I think; in the best way possible, I care less because we’ve settled into our groove. We are super grateful for our fans, of course, but I think what has gotten us to where we are is the fact that we’ve always done our own thing and if we pivot from that I think it becomes disingenuous. We’ve been playing in Thrice for so long that I have a certain confidence in what we do – and because of that confidence, I feel less pressure. I can only speak for myself though; maybe the rest of the band feels differently. All that being said, I am getting there with Teranishi. I’m starting to care less in a good way.
I’m starting to care less in a good way.
What’s Thrice up to right now?
We released a new record called Palms last year and have been touring a lot in support of it. We’re looking at another full year of touring for ’19, then I’m sure things will slow down and we’ll go back into a writing cycle.
You guys went on hiatus for a few years before getting together again to record “To Be Everywhere is To Be Nowhere.” What prompted the reunion?
We first got back together to do a few spot shows and festival dates without any further expectations, but then we found that we were vibing really well. It was then that we thought maybe we should keep going with this. Let’s write a record.
The biggest reason that we stopped, for the most part, was that we had growing families and the touring schedule was intense. We just felt like we needed a break from it so that we could focus on life. So when we got back together, we tried to figure out how do things without being away so much and having it be as intense – like maybe breaking tours into smaller legs so rather than being out for 8 weeks, we’d aim for 2 or 3 week runs. That’s what we did for this last tour and it worked out really well.
I know very little about the music industry, but I do know that it’s a totally different beast now in that you can’t really make money selling records anymore. Is touring the only way?
That’s the toughest thing, you know? The Beatles stopped touring after not being together for too long and they went on to have very successful careers beyond touring. Thats not even a remote possibility anymore unless you’re mega huge. Maybe. Especially for a band our size, the only way to keep it sustainable is to keep playing shows.
Touring is a Catch-22 because we need to do it to sustain ourselves, but it’s exactly what was also killing it for us. It’s a delicate balance but I think we’re finding it now. We didn’t go on hiatus for that long, you know, it was only like 3 years. We honestly had no idea when we called the hiatus though. We didn’t know if it would be two years, ten years, or forever. So I think that once we all regrouped, we were all grateful for the mental space and time to think that we finally got during our downtime because we came back into the band super psyched and with newfound energy.
Breaking up tours is not economically efficient. Before the hiatus, it would’ve been a really hard decision for us to make – but the break allowed us to put some parameters on ourselves so we wouldn’t feel the strain like we did before.
Thrice was your garage band in high school, right?
I don’t want to say we paid our dues, but we did; we weren’t in a tour bus right away at all. We toured in a van for awhile. Nowadays we are totally spoiled – but the reality is that anyone doing it at our capacity is equally spoiled.
Musicians are so spoiled. When Thrice began our hiatus and I had to try and figure out how to run my own business, I realized very quickly how much I didn’t know. Having a band is essentially like running a small business. But from the minute it started to matter, we had a manager, a booking agent, a label, and then a business manager. All my life, I hadn’t done any business work whatsoever because we always let everyone else take care of all that stuff. Once I had to start start my own business, I realized how little I know about the world. That was definitely a wake up call. I mean, even dealing with government agencies and having to report taxes was a whirlwind. I’m still terrible at that stuff.
Was it scary calling the hiatus? How long were you playing in the band for at that point?
It was definitely scary. I had been playing with Thrice for 13 years – 13 years of that being my actual job. We had just moved to Vashon Island and were in a place completely foreign to us. At that point we had two children already, and Jenna was pregnant with Elliot. I had a third child coming and I had no idea what I was going to do for work.
Were there other options on the table?
The most feasible job would have been music production. I had recorded some of Thrice’s music, and I had people hitting me up to see if I would engineer and produce a record, but I wanted to take the opportunity to explore something outside of music. I have so many interests outside of music, but coming straight out of high school and playing in a band for a job, I never had a chance to explore any of them. I don’t mean for this to sound like a complaint, either; I just wanted it to be an opportunity to try something else. Thats why I started doing Teranishi Studio. I gave myself a year; I said that if it seamed feasible at that point than I would keep going, but if not, I’d find something else.
Who was buying your leather goods at first? Thrice fans?
Very few of them, if any at all in the beginning. I was super hush about the entire project and I didn’t want the worlds to cross at all. I was weird about it back then, but I don’t care about it anymore. I think whenever you start something, you’re pretty insecure about it and I didn’t want to feel like people were just buying it because I was in Thrice. I wanted the work to stand on its own.
What is special about leathercrafting to you?
Leathercrafting is interesting to me because it’s actually very easy and takes very few tools to start. It’s not that hard to do, but the problem is that it’s really hard to do well. You can take two pieces of leather, cut them out, punch some holes in them and sew some thread through those holes and you’ve got something – but that doesn’t mean it looks good. To know how to stitch well, to know how to finish edges, all that stuff takes a long time to excel at. Edges, for example, are something that most people probably don’t pay attention to, but they can really change how a piece looks. I can get super anal about how edges are finished. There are just different levels of craftsmanship, which is what makes it difficult to bring it to different levels. I see a lot of stuff on social media that people make that is really mediocre, but every once in a while I’ll come across someone who I’m like “Dang, this guy is legit.” That is super refreshing.
You had a separate studio and employees in Vashon, and as a result of that you were able to crank through more product. But being here and working alone is a choice. Have you considered expanding Teranishi Studio again?
No, it’s too much. The thought of trying to do what I was doing on Vashon Island while I have other things happening – Thrice and otherwise – sounds insane. Before, it was all consuming. I suppose I could hire out more and take a step back, but I don’t want to do that. I still have people come and help me out occasionally, but overall this project is super tied to me and I want to make almost everything that comes out.
There’s definitely a minimalistic look to your work – nothing’s there that doesn’t need to be there. Where does that come from?
Maybe a little bit of it comes from my Japanese heritage; I just really like simple things. Maybe I’m just lazy. Even with my guitar rig: there was a time where I got really into effects pedals, and now there are certain songs that I can’t play without them. But if I had it my way, I would just plug my guitar straight into the amp and play.
I just really like simple things.
I think a lot of the frustration with always wanting to do more and not really being able to comes from wanting to be a good dad and a good husband.
Thats the thing, I think you always think you have more time than you do. Family comes first always. And its not like family is getting in the way – it’s the other stuff that gets in the way of family.
How long have you and Jenna been married?
This year will be 17. We were supposed to go to Paris for our 10th but then we had Elliot.
Was she there at the beginning of Thrice?
Yeah, right at the beginning. When we got married we were signed to Sub City Records and had no idea how we were going to make ends meet. That’s the thing: when you’re super young, I think you’re just naive and you just dive right in. When you’re older you can psyche yourself out.
We just went for it. When we got married, I was 21 and she was 20. She came overseas a few times with us and that was fun. Now with kids, we can’t really do that so I’m glad we took advantage of it when we were young. She’s seen it all happen from the start.
How much were you touring in peak mode?
I’d say 8 months a year.
Which of your kids have you seen the least because of that?
Miles, our firstborn. I missed a lot. We were still touring a lot when he was a baby. I left on a tour when he was 3 months old. I came back and he was a totally different baby.
Did you feel guilt? It’s a weird dynamic, because you have to provide for your family.
I hated it and I was super bummed to leave every time. Especially with your first kid, you’re so in it. But I’m not sure if it was guilt, because you know you have to do what you have to do to provide, and if you have that mindset it helps. It’s rough, though. The people that tour full time – tour managers and tech – they are always touring, and I have no idea how they do that. I’m thankful for my crew, who are a huge blessing to me. Having them is way better than being alone; I couldn’t do it without them. It’s not all peachy but I’ve never taken playing music and touring for granted. I’m always thankful, and I love to travel and see other cultures. Except, of course, you wish your family is there. I’ll be in Europe and I’ll see something cool and I’ll think, “Man, I wish Jenna was here; she would like that.”
So where does Teranishi Studio stand today? Is it purely a creative outlet now that Thrice is taking up more of your time?
I would say the split is 75% Thrice and 25% Teranishi. I still need to make up that little bit financially, so Teranishi is still important on the financial side. It’s not purely a creative outlet; it would really take all pressure off if it was. I still need to make it happen though. Now that I’m in the garage here instead of a separate workshop, I can be with the family all the time – which is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I don’t get any work done but that’s ok.
What’s something you are trying to get better at professionally or personally?
I’ve been feeling the need to get rid of more things. I’m working on getting better at needing less. My goal this year is not to attain anything unless I really need it.
How does that play in with being a father?
Kids are kids, you gotta let them live. Our kids are pretty freaking spoiled, though – they have everything they could ever want. But thats all on the grandparents. We don’t buy our kids anything – their grandparents spoil them.
As a father, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind for them?
Thats a deep question; I don’t know if I have ever thought about that. I just want them to care about the stuff that matters. I want them to care about people. I want them to care about goodness and beauty and not focus on any of that fluff in the world. I want them to see past all of that.
Read Previous Issue